Kearny deals with blizzard’s aftermath

‘We had all the plows,
and the public works crews,
not to mention, salt and fuel,
But they were no match
For a blizzard so cruel …’

That, essentially, is how Mayor Alberto Santos explained the failure on “The Flats” that, he acknowledged, happened in last weekend’s devastating storm which, he said, deposited 28 inches on Kearny streets.

The mayor devoted a lot of time at last Tuesday night’s meeting of the governing body to an exhaustive analysis of how the town’s Office of Emergency Management had strategized last Friday morning – many hours before the storm hit – on how to prepare.

During that critical period, Santos said, the latest forecast “had actually reduced the projected snowfall to eight to 12 inches.” Based on those numbers, OEM concluded there was no need to secure extra plows, he said.

“Later, of course, that changed,” he said, “but by then the die was cast.”

But, before that happened, the town implemented its plan of attack for its 40 miles of local roads: The “first shift” of plows were assigned to the “milk runs” (emergency routes like Kearny, Midland, Bergen and Davis Aves., Belgrove Drive, etc.) while other crews concentrated on “the slopes” and the “smaller streets,” primarily in business/industrial areas but also residential.

A second shift was assigned “The Flats,” north/south arteries like Chestnut, Devon, Maple, Highland, Windsor, etc., that, Santos said, “present less of a traffic hazard,” along with The Manor section and dead-ends town-wide.

Santos said all 12 plow units were working, absenteeism among workers called in for O.T. was “minor,” salt was “fully supplied,” there was “no shortage of diesel fuel” for the plows.

And, “in the first 12 hours” of the storm, the plan worked, Santos said. “Most streets were getting were getting regular plowing.”

But “by early [Saturday] afternoon,” he said, “all our plows were getting stuck at regular points of time due to the steady accumulation of snow at the rate of two to three inches every hour.” (No equipment breakdowns occurred, said DPW Superintendent Gerry Kerr, but due to the storm’s severity, plows had to periodically return to the garage for adjustments to or replacements of shoes (blade attachment) and windshield wipers.)

Assistant DPW Superintendent Kevin Murphy recalled that at some point during that period of time, “Every five minutes, I was hearing [from a plow operator on his radio], ‘I’m stuck.’ So a decision was made to let [The Flats] go.”

“Where the failure occurred,” the mayor said, “was you have to regularly plow or you get stuck.” Had the town arranged “to contract in advance for extra plows,” things may have turned out differently, he said, but because of the downward revised forecast, that didn’t happen.

“There was a window [of opportunity] there that was missed,” he said.

As soon as it became apparent that the accumulation was going to top what had been forecast, Santos said, “we contacted the state and asked for more equipment. Two hours later, they got back to us and said, ‘no.’ ’’

What also hampered the town’s efforts, the mayor added, was the frequency of incidents involving “people throwing snow into the street, creating piles of snow six feet high, so now the time it takes for plowing turns into two to three hours to clear a street.”

Another issue that impeded plowing, said Kerr, was “cars abandoned or parked on street corners. At one point, we had seven or eight of our trucks were stuck because they couldn’t make the turn so we had use front end loaders to pull them out.”

According to Santos, during the weekend, police responded to more than 400 calls involving stalled or abandoned cars.
Several residents offered critiques of the town’s performance.

One woman said the mayor’s mother and sister who live on the same block – Windsor Terrace – appeared to get preferential treatment in getting their portion of the street cleared ahead of residents further down the street. Santos said he did make calls to find out what was being done on the block but denied pressuring anyone on his relatives’ behalf. Murphy said the plowing delay resulted from “a drunk driver hitting five parked cars” and the driver’s car “was stuck on the block a few hours.”

In the 27 years since he’s been doing the job, Murphy said, “Never once have we done a street based on council people living there.”

Despite town assertions to the contrary, Melanie Ryan said that plows missed Hillside Ave. “Check your GPS,” she said. “It may be askew.” When she mentioned that mounds of snow at Halstead and Brighton “were two feet above my head,” Murphy acknowledged that, “Those piles are on every block.”

One man recommended arranging through the Board of Education opening up school parking lots to allow neighbors to park during such snow emergencies. Santos said the town would investigate the possibility. Councilman Albino Cardoso said, “There’s no way we can enforce no parking on snow days. Where can they go? You cannot park by the sidewalks.” Santos agreed that was a dilemma since virtually all municipal lots are filled with overnight parkers.

Chestnut St. resident Barbara Assisi asked the town to consider preparing a list of residents who have access to their own plows to provide “extra resources” during extreme storms. “Good idea,” said Santos, but only “if the union can be assured it would be done only in dire emergencies.”

Trinity Place resident Larry Handlin, a longtime contractor, said the town should equip more of its plows with chains for better traction in snow and proposed the town rent two or three front-end loaders for emergencies. Kerr said the town’s “larger plows” have chains but added that “they can get chewed up on the asphalt.”

Meanwhile, the town is focused on snow removal with the help of four loaders and two dump trucks furnished by a local contractor, Santos said. “We got a permit to dump snow into the Passaic River.”


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